Franco provides missing link

THERE were great sighs of relief and huge expectations when West Ham brought in three strikers on deadline day last month, writes DAVE EVANS. Benni McCarthy, Mido and Ilan were billed as the saviours of the Hammers season when they arrived at Upton Park,

THERE were great sighs of relief and huge expectations when West Ham brought in three strikers on deadline day last month, writes DAVE EVANS.

Benni McCarthy, Mido and Ilan were billed as the saviours of the Hammers season when they arrived at Upton Park, but on Saturday, one of them was missing through injury and the other two were mere bit-part players.

Certainly West Ham needed an injection of striking talent, but manager Gianfranco Zola has always had faith in the squad he brought together at the start of the season.

So when Guillermo Franco returned to fitness, it was he who was paired with Carlton Cole and it worked a treat.


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Most pundits had presumed that England man Cole would be partnered with Egyptian Mido against Hull City, but West Ham fans will remember the understanding that was beginning to develop between Cole and Franco, before both suffered injuries which kept them out.

The Mexican international striker has been missing with a thigh injury since the defeat at Tottenham on December 28, but the 33-year-old is obviously a favourite of Zola and went straight back into the team.

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"I think it has been massive losing Guillermo Franco for a while," admitted Zola after Saturday's precious 3-0 victory. "He is a player who sometimes doesn't get the credit he deserves.

"He works so intelligently and his linking between 'Coley' and the midfielders is fantastic."

While McCarthy and Mido are out and out strikers, Franco offers something a little different, which is important to the team.

As Zola suggests, his clever flicks and time on the ball allows him to bring the midfield into the game in advanced positions, although it was something of a fluke when he combined with Valon Behrami after just three minutes to set up the first goal.

Sometimes he can be frustrating. Despite the experience of 20 international caps, he still finds it hard to control his Latin temperament and he could have been harshly dealt with by the referee after clashing with Hull defender Paul McShane.

He likes to rub the opposition up the wrong way and his five bookings suggest he is not the referee's friend either, but he gives West Ham a spark and the sort of raw energy which is needed.

Having missed six games and a month-and-a-half of the season, it was no surprise that the former Villarreal striker looked tired and needed to be replaced just after the hour on Saturday.

By that time he had certainly made his contribution and given his chance, he will surely add to his three goals in claret and blue.

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